Even though this capital city on the Como River and the Atlantic coast is quite modern—skyscrapers rise above wide, tree-lined boulevards downtown—Libreville (pop. 800,000) still has a colonial feel. Visit the beautiful St. Marie Cathedral, which has wood carvings by local tribes, and St. Michel Church (mosaics and more wood carvings). Shop at the colorful outdoor markets—we especially enjoyed Mont Bouet and Akebe-Plaine. (They have odd hours, so make sure they're open before you go.) The Centre Artisanal (near the airport) is worth a visit to watch handicrafts being made. Afterward, stroll along the Boulevard de la Mer, see the Presidential Palace (made from imported Italian marble) and stop at the modern National Museum of Arts and Traditions. On the riverfront, you'll see thousands of logs awaiting export.

There are several nice beaches nearby—the closest is Pointe Denis (about 7 mi/13 km southwest of town). Set on a peninsula across the estuary from Libreville, Pointe Denis can be reached only by boat. (The ride from Libreville's Port Mole takes only 30 minutes, but boats leave infrequently.) Most visitors stay for three nights to snorkel, swim and lay under the palms. We also like Cap Esterias (about 25 mi/40 km northwest of town) and Sabliere (a private beach). Ocean fishing for swordfish, tarpon, barracuda and shark is done off the reefs near Libreville. The best time for saltwater fishing is October-May; for river fishing, try June-November. There are several other excursions worth taking (each requires at least one day): to Fang villages on the Mbei River near Kango; a ferry ride to Coniquet Island to see the caves where escaped slaves once hid; and to Kinguele Falls.

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